By Christen Smith
(The Center Square) – Pittsburgh Public School District will postpone students’ first day by two weeks, until Sept. 8, amid a bus driver shortage, local officials said this week.
Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said the delay is “necessary” to support the “transportation strategies we have put in place to take hold as we welcome students back for five days of in-person instruction.”
“We are also listening to the concerns raised by our staff related to the impact traditionally high temperatures in August have on our facilities now coupled with the use of masks,” he said. “It is our hope this challenge would be lessened in September, allowing everyone a positive start in the new school year.”
The district’s transportation carriers are short 426 drivers, leaving nearly 11,000 students without a ride to school, Hamlet said. Adjusting start times, expanding walk zones and increasing the amount of students who use the Port Authority System will decrease the seat gap by half.
But it still leaves nearly 6,000 students in the lurch.
“These are some difficult decisions we are going through right now based on our current state and current context we are in,” Hamlet told WPXI. “It’s not ideal times.”
The driver shortage, both locally and nationally, comes as a result of low wages, limited hours and minimal health benefits that hurt recruitment efforts, the district said. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the problem.
Drivers must also go through rigorous training that’s often unpaid and receive multiple clearances, said Mort Snider, who works for Beckwith Buses in Centre County, during an interview with the Altoona Mirror last month.
“We have had people we have turned down,” he said. “If you have a DUI, you are done. You need a clean driving record and need to take a drug test. We do random testing four times a year.”
The Pennsylvania School Bus Association, in an effort to drum up interest, launched a recruitment campaign in July to match potential drivers with job openings. The salaries range from $15 an hour to $25 per hour, with benefits.